Planning to hire a technical writer? Or going to an interview as a technical writer?
In either case, you need to ask the right questions (if you’re hiring) and know what to answer (if you’re for hire) – right?
So, here are fourteen tips for interviewing technical writers, for example, if your needs to hire a contractor to complete some documentation.
I’ve worked on both sides on the fence, (i.e. interviewed and been interviewed) and picked up a few things. Hopefully, these will be of some help.
First: What exactly is a technical writer? A technical writer, as the name implies, creates documentation of a technical nature. They write text that is accurate, readable, accessible, and helpful to its intended audience, usually end-users or developers.
How to Test Technical Writers
How much time should be allotted to complete an assessment test?
I’d suggest one hour. Some people will race through it, while others will deliberate over the grammar questions forever. Nonetheless, one hour should be sufficient time for them to complete the test. By allocating this amount of time to the test, you are also emphasizing its relative importance. If it were a simple 10-minute quiz, it wouldn’t carry the same weight. Here is a suggested approach for administering the test:
- When advertising the vacancy, highlight that an evaluation test is part of the assessment process.
- By saying this upfront, you will weed out under-qualified writers who know that they would not pass the test.
- When scheduling interviews, remind the applicants that there will be a 1 hour test.
- Explain to them what this entails, for example, that there is X number of questions on grammar, procurement, technology etc. Among other things, this illustrates your company’s professionalism as you are helping the applicants to prepare for the interview.
- In turn, it would be unprofessional to spring the test on applicants when they turn up and catch them by surprise. Completing the test takes about 90 minutes. Some applicants may have other arrangements to consider, such as day-care, commuting etc.
When they arrive, interview them first and then do the test.
If they are unsuitable for the position, cancel the test and say that it is not necessary at this point.
For those who are suitable, I’d do the following:
- Give them a pen and paper (always helps).
- Glass of water/coffee. Find a quiet room with a PC or laptop.
- Give them a printout of the test (most writers like hardcopies).
- Walk through the test so that they understand what s required. They can ask any questions at this point.
- Once they are ready, leave the room and let them do the test.
- After 20 minutes, drop in to see how they are doing. This is not to police them, but to see if they genuinely need any assistance.
- After 60 minutes return and print out their test.
At this point, I’d suggest that they have a break so that you can score the test. Once you’ve completed this, sit down and go over the scores. As everyone likes to know how they performed in a test, I’d walk through the results and discuss them with the applicant. For example, if they scored poorly in one section, ask them how this area could be improved. And finally, thank them for taking the time to do the tests and hope that they have gained from it.
Technical Writing Skills
Technical writers often have a degree in English, technical writing, the technical field for which they are writing, or a combination of these.
It is most important that they have enough expertise to understand their audience’s background and needs.
For example, writers who develop documentation for software APIs, microcontroller operation, and other technical subjects are often paid more than those who write guides for a non-technical audience (for example, how to use email), because it is difficult to find good writers with advanced technical knowledge.
Desktop publishing tools
After the documentation is written, using a desktop publishing tool or a help authoring tool, it is normally reviewed for accuracy by one or more “subject matter experts” (SMEs).
Technical communication is the process of conveying information about technology to an intended audience. A technical communicator is a person whose job involves technical communication. Technical communication jobs include the following:
- Technical writer
- Technical editor
- Information architect
- Usability expert
- User interface designer
- Technical artist
- Technical trainer
The technology can be of any kind, including the sciences, high technology including computers and software, consumer electronics, and so on.
Role of Technical Writing
Technical communications are created and distributed by most employees in service organizations today, especially by professional staff and management.
Effective communications require quality content, language, format, and more. The entire point of communications is to disseminate information; this is where written content comes in. To present the appropriate content, it is imperative to understand one s audience and writing purpose.
If a document does not communicate the information that the writer intends and what he or she wants the reader to understand, then the communication is meaningless.
The writer has a self-interest in making the extra effort: Looking credible is as important as being credible and getting results in business.
Respect and credibility of the writer/speaker are integral to effective communications. Readers will not trust the information from an author if they do not believe that author is a valuable source of information or the purveyor of worthwhile ideas.
Furthermore, being respected is essential to being persuasive, a key ingredient in business.